YouTube is in hot water with conservative users and creators, with the Google-owned video giant accused of discriminating against the right as YouTube takes ads off content that it says violates the terms of service.
Last month, YouTube quietly made moves to remove advertisements on certain types of content that it says is not consistent with its terms of service. YouTube doesn’t serve ads on demonetized videos, meaning big hits to the bottom line for conservative YouTube personalities.
YouTube says that its efforts are aimed at cracking down on hate speech, but conservative and right-wing video creators say they’re frustrated by the changes.
The video streaming service began the initiative after several major companies like Coca-Cola, Amazon and Microsoft pulled their ads from YouTube in the spring after the Times of London noticed that advertisements for their brands appeared alongside videos of hateful, offensive or even pro-terrorist content.
YouTube creators who had advertisements removed from their content would also no longer receive payment from YouTube on those videos.
YouTube has occasionally demonetized and flagged certain types of content in the past, most notably when it cut mega-popular video game personality Pewdiepie from making money on the platform for using racial slurs. But August marked an uptick in YouTube’s ad crackdown across the platform.
Luke Rudkowski, a YouTube video creator who has made his name chronicling various far-right figures, released a video on Aug. 10 claiming that hundreds of his videos had been demonetized at the beginning of the month, effectively killing his ability to make money on the platform.
“I haven’t even been cursing in any of my videos,” Rudkowski said, acknowledging that many of his videos are controversial. “And then YouTube invites people for this platform, which I joined and put my entire life into. And then YouTube just says, ‘You know? We’re going to change our terms and services.’”
YouTube says that while it respects principles of free speech, its policies are aimed at making sure advertisers’ needs are met.
“There’s a difference between the free expression that lives on YouTube and the content that brands have told us they want to advertise against,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “Part of giving advertisers choice means giving them the choice to not run ads on sensitive content.”
The company said that creators who feel that their content was incorrectly classified can file an appeal with Youtube.
But “Diamond and Silk,” two prominent YouTube creators who were hit hard by the site’s demonetization policies, believe they were targeted for their support for President Trump.
“How was it OK to monetize our videos for the past two years and now those same videos are no longer eligible for monetization?” the two women, who have also appeared regularly on Fox News, asked.
YouTube’s ad changes have reached the wider conservative media, adding fuel to the right’s belief that tech giants are discriminating against conservative views.
“YOUTUBE DECLARES WAR ON POLITICALLY INCORRECT OPINIONS,” reads one Infowars headline.
“I think it would be insane to suggest there’s not an active effort to censor conservative and independent views,” Lauren Southern, a conservative internet personality, told the Daily Caller.
“There’s no merit hiring, there’s no support of free speech and there certainly is not an equal representation of political views at these companies,” Southern said, criticizing Silicon Valley.
Southern, who has recently focused on criticizing migration to Europe and even tried to block a rescue boat in one high-profile incident, boasts a significant presence on YouTube. Many of her videos appear to be demonetized.
But the crackdown hasn’t just been limited to conservative and right-wing voices. Non-political content is also being demonetized, creating another political headache for YouTube as it tries to convince advertisers that its platform is safe for their brands.
Last year, popular YouTube creator Philip DeFranco claimed that one his videos had been demonetized. YouTube said that DeFranco’s video had been demonetized because he swore and used graphic video footage, according to DeFranco.
“I love YouTube. It’s well within their damn rights to do this. It is their website. It is also incredibly f—ing concerning,” DeFranco said in a video. “By taking away monetization, it is a form of censorship.”
Others have noticed that some LGBT content is being demonetized, as well. The Outline pointed out a video by YouTube video creator Arielle Jane from August that had been demonetized for no clear reason.
Earlier in the year, YouTube sparked controversy among some of its creators when its filtering tools flagged a video of two women exchanging wedding vows. The company quickly announced that it would make changes to the tools, which it said were “incorrectly filtering videos.”
YouTube’s ad crackdown, apparently meant to assuage advertisers who were spooked by earlier controversies, reflects an ongoing battle to make companies comfortable alongside user-generated content.
“Ten years ago advertisers wouldn’t run their ads alongside user generated content like on message boards,” says Jason Kint, CEO of the media trade association Digital Content Next.
YouTube is now caught in a bind as it struggles to crackdown on harmful content, withoutalienating popular video creators and their viewers.
“Advertisers are reconsidering whether they want to be anywhere near user-generated content, let alone the controversial pollution which litters Facebook and YouTube,” Kint said. “The trick is making sure they don’t also cut off the productive creators that are the innovators and artists of our media.”